Amino Acid Power!

One area of supplementation that everyone agrees on though, to build more muscle, is protein, dietary nitrogen and amino acids. Learn the importance of amino acids!

Planet Muscle is one magazine at the forefront of finally addressing and unraveling the puzzle of which supplements bodybuilders really do need. One area of supplementation that everyone agrees on though, to build more muscle, is protein, dietary nitrogen and amino acids.

Bodybuilders often times seem in a quandary over which supplements to take, when to take them, how long and how much. Now, this might drive bodybuilders to an AA meeting, but in this case, that's not so bad as it has nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with getting more muscle mass via increased amino acids!

Planet Muscle suggests (as do I) that it's time to get back to the basics of nutrition to understand what is necessary to build more muscle faster. Well, number one, no one can build any massive structure - including the human body - without the most essential tools.

As a rudimentary example, take building a house, whether it's a shack or mansion, you usually need wood and nails. Naturally you are not after any old shack of a body, but solid principles and tools still must be utilized. Most likely you and all bodybuilders aim for a strong, customized, healthy home, one that calls out for admiration.

You need ample complete proteins to assist the hypertrophy growth processes signaled by resistance training. In fact, protein is likely to augment the same signals.

What Makes Up Protein?

Chemically, protein consists of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen via NH2 (2 hydrogen and 1 nitrogen) and a carboxyl group, COOH (one carbon, 2 oxygen 1 hydrogen). Further, it is a peptide bonded amino acid structure (via a hydroxide, OH, from one amino and hydrogen from another amino end - forming good old basic water).

That is the 'skeleton' of proteins (amino acids) and protein provides the total nitrogen for all plant and animal structures. The optimum way to ingest complete amino acids is via animal derived whole foods and beverages such as beef, fish, eggs and milk.

Under highly stressful situations, like weightlifting, your body needs more of all the amino acids and a ton more of a few select amino acids than normal.

If the necessary nitrogen is not taken in via your diet, your body only has the option to make the amino acids it needs by scavenging from structural body sources. These may include such entities as red blood cell hemoglobin, the lining of your intestines and gut, from muscle and other areas. This leaching may sacrifice certain functions already provided by the structural proteins of these sources and this is not kosher for overall body health.

Recently, several ultra long distance runners who had been eating the typical diet of high carbohydrates and fats but not much protein, were determined not only to be functionally anemic (low iron), but somewhat surprisingly, they had depleted almost all of their red blood cell hemoglobin proteins!

It is now recommended that long distance event athletes increase their protein intake. This is reasoning enough to make sure you are getting a sufficient stream of amino acids.

While most ordinary, (read non-muscular) sedentary individuals probably meet their daily protein requirements with whole food nutrition, larger and more metabolically active individuals, or those under tremendous tissue stresses (like bodybuilders and lifters), may have a difficult time consuming enough quality food to meet their bodies' increased protein demand, and often enough at that.

Beyond that, many people may wish to avoid the undesirables, like saturated fat, sodium, sugars and cholesterol, associated with animal derived protein sources. Thus the more efficient, clean way to get added aminos is through supplementation.

Bear in mind, you should NOT just load one single supplement of an amino acid (say lysine) unless this amino acid supplement contains all eight essential amino acids, then load to your heart's delight. If you load too heavily on just one or two aminos but do not include the entire essential 8 somewhere, you can create serious deficiencies.

Optimum Nutrition is the current leader of proteins in our industry. Here's their review of some powerful supplemental amino acids, which science argues are the most powerful and efficient at building muscle.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The BCAAs are amino acids so named because of their unique chemical structure (a basic tree with branches). In nature there are three / valine, isoleucine, and leucine. These are becoming rediscovered.

Numerous studies have shown that the BCAAs help enhance energy levels, burn fat, build muscle, and speed recovery under a variety of metabolic conditions. BCAAs are unique in that they can be absorbed directly into the muscle tissue to provide almost instant fuel and proteins are not generally thought of as for use as 'fuel'.

Recent studies conducted by the 'Protein Doctor', Eric Serrano, M.D., now suggest that, under specific metabolic conditions (very heavy or very lengthy workouts with some carb restriction), as much as 38% of your body's total energy needs can come from BCAAs. This is up from the prior notion of 15-18%. Such data qualifies BCAA as a 'super-nutrient' making them extremely important - not to mention their additive effect in muscle tissue remodeling following weight training.

As with most amino acids, you can find BCAAs in a high-quality blended protein powder, but new research suggests that they have a much more powerful effect when taken separately and in accordance with your bodyweight. Great benefits have been reported with consuming BCAAs immediately after heavy training and at bedtime in pill or capsule form!

But BCAAs are so good for your body that you can take them anytime and any way. Serious male bodybuilders must aim for 10 -- 25 grams daily.

Now here is a conditionally essential amino acid (like arginine), that many athletes supplement copiously and for good reason. Glutamine, along with taurine, is the most abundant amino acid found in the muscles and at some metabolic points, the BIG G, can comprise as much as 60% of the free amino acids in skeletal muscle.

Glutamine is known throughout the athletic community for its positive effects on growth hormone maintenance, cell volume, immune functions, and protein substrate recycling for enhanced protein synthesis in muscle. In other words, its anabolic (muscle building) and anti-catabolic (muscle protecting) properties make it a must for bodybuilders.

During stress (such as intense exercise) glutamine is lost from your muscle tissue. It can be vital for you to replace the pilfered glutamine or prevent this from happening in the first place!

By supplementing, you can thwart muscle breakdown. Cottage cheese and milk products are loaded with the Big G, but perhaps a more palatable, convenient and efficient way to make sure your body has enough glutamine available before and after training, is through supplementation. Aim for at least 10 grams a day, preferably 5 grams pre-workout and 5 grams post-workout.

-> Carnitine:

Technically this is an accessory food nutrient, related to the vitamin B complex, but it has been also classified as a non-essential amino acid due to its similar chemical structure. But then, here would be another amino acid that strongly relates to energy and specifically, to that of heart function.

Carnitine transports long chains of fatty acids to be burned for energy, mainly in the mitochondria - a major fuel source for the muscles and this is how it has garnered its anecdotal reputation as a fat burning agent.

In a nutshell, the theory goes that by supplementing your diet with carnitine, you can force an increase in the oxidation of fat.

This would encourage weight loss and improve energy levels. Still another added benefit of carnitine supplementation is that it's been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in individuals suffering from heart disease. But, you might ask, "Why include carnitine in a discussion of amino acids and building muscle?" Well, see the title again -- because we are talking about lean tissue increases, carnitine can theoretically help do the job! Now a typical dosage for heart health and sports benefits is approximately 2 grams a day. It is noteworthy that several experts have 'sparred' over carnitine on the issue of fat burning, including Jeff Everson, the editor of this magazine.

Some carnitine proponents believe carnitine to be much more effective, but usually in higher doses, closer to 10 or more grams per day.

-> Taurine:

Taurine is an amino acid like glutamine that is earning more and more respect from bodybuilders and protein scientists.

While taurine generally is the second most abundant amino acid in muscle, in several metabolic conditions, some muscle biologists like Eric Serrano, M.D., have determined that it, not glutamine, is the most voluminous amino represented in striated type 2 muscle fiber!

Taurine has several critical functions and can act similarly to creatine in that it expands your cells by helping the muscle cell itself hold more water, increasing cell volume.

For a lifter or bodybuilder, this is significant because expanded muscle cells can boost hydration resulting in a higher rate of protein synthesis and bodybuilders will appreciate the increased appearance of muscle fullness. Additionally, another 'theory' is that taurine preferentially enhances interstitial contractile leverage and this may aid the lifter in handling heavier weights.

Nowadays, you will often find taurine added to creatine or amino acid preparations in bodybuilding supplements for a heightened effect. The best time to consume these combinations might be 30 minutes before training and again immediately after.

-> Arginine:

Arginine is another amino acid that has been called a conditionally essential amino acid. We do NOT recommend huge doses of this amino acid. In sensitive individuals it may activate herpes simplex virus, type 2 which is stored in your spinal cord ganglia (and which 90% of the American populace has by age 50), and can cause lip cold sores. However, we do recommend that you make sure you get enough for several reasons.

Arginine can really be called a growth hormone because it is one of the amino acids that produces creatine. It is also critical for the production of growth hormone. Arginine can also be referred to as an ammonia buffer in the sense that it helps remove excess nitrogenous ammonia developed during the protein urea cycle.

There are various products on the market now with arginine claiming to increase male performance and virility. This may be 'stretching' the truth unless one is deficient in arginine, but the reason these proponents make such a claim is because arginine has also been called the 'blood flow' amino acid. Indeed, in some studies, arginine has been shown to increase levels of intra-muscular nitrous oxide that then may cause enhanced blood flow to the same areas! There are ample reasons to place arginine in the category of bodybuilding super amino acid!

Amino Acid Complexes

When you are taking individual amino acids, it is also recommended to include an amino acid complex to make certain you get the nutrients you need to build lean muscle.

By consuming a full spectrum of aminos, you provide your body with the entire toolbox to construct your dream home.

Some companies offer amino acid complexes in tablet, capsule and liquid form. Good examples are Optimum Nutrition's Amino 2222, Prolab Nutrition Whey Amino 2000 and Twinlab Amino Fuel. Try taking an amino acid complex, liking Amino 2222, half an hour before meals, and then supplementing with glutamine 30-minutes before and after workouts. This combo is an excellent way to power your muscles with the protein "building blocks" they crave.

Technology has provided us with numerous choices in life. But remember our introduction --- you cannot build anything without the proper tools. Be sure you supply your body with an adequate amount of amino acids to build protein, to build muscle, and in turn construct your incredible body - "your custom home."


1: Balch, CNC, Phyllis A., and James F. Balch, M.D., Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 3rd Ed. New York: Avery, 2000.

2: Leibovitz, Ph.D., and Brian E. L-Carnitine: The Energy Nutrient. Los Angeles: Keats 1998